Sunday, December 03, 2006

Writing For Money

[Posted by reader_iam]

This is supposed to be a new thing, or even surprising?
THE Netroots.” “People Power.” “Crashing the Gate.” The lingo of liberal Web bloggers [sic] bespeaks contempt for the political establishment. The same disdain is apparent among many bloggers on the right, who argued passionately for a change in the slate of House Republican leaders — and who wallowed in woe-is-the-party pity when the establishment ignored them.

You might think that with the kind of rhetoric bloggers regularly muster against politicians, they would never work for them. But you would be wrong.

Over the past few years, bloggers have won millions of fans by speaking truth to power — even the powers in their own parties — and presenting a fresh, outsider perspective. They are the pamphleteers of the 21st century, revolutionary “citizen journalists” motivated by personal idealism and an unwavering confidence that they can reform American politics.

But this year, candidates across the country found plenty of outsiders ready and willing to move inside their campaigns. Candidates hired some bloggers to blog and paid others consulting fees for Internet strategy advice or more traditional campaign tasks like opposition research.

Maybe I'm supposed to go all disapproving over bloggers so-called "selling out" their political ideals for filthy lucre, but as I commented at Althouse [disclosure: edited, for typos only]:
From my point of view, this is just a variation on an old, old theme--"purity/calling of journalism" vs. "sold-out flacks." The lines can get pretty blurry, and the arguments from both sides pretty self-serving, but so what else is new? (And while Armstrong, for example, has no credibility for me, that would true whether he makes 2 cents or $2 million.)

I think disclosure is important, but beyond that, I can't get very worked up about this.

Oh, and with very rare (even notable) exceptions, I don't buy the "citizenjournalism" thing, and haven't from Day One. 'Cause mostly it ain't journalism: It's commentary, at best, and axe-grinding at worst. Whether there's money attached to it or not is beside the point.

I suppose I should clarify: Of course I would have a problem with a politician directly paying a journalist employed as such, disclosed or not. (I don't want politicians paying off staff writers for major newspapers, for example.) But what these bloggers are being paid for isn't journalism, not in my book. It isn't even "citizenjournalism," [note****below] about which term and which concept, as they are used in the blogosphere generally, I harbor deep skepticism. (As noted above, there are certainly exceptions and some quite notable ones. But in the large universe of blogs, we are talking a miniscule percentage.)

The other thing I should acknowledge is that I tend--very much so--to have a very jaded view of the attitude that blogging is supposed to be some sort of noble, pristine undertaking. It's just another form of writing or expression, in my book. It can be credible or not; it can be for pay or not; or it can be something someone would do for free, but because he or she has high traffic and ads on his or her site, the effort does indeed translate into some sort of financial benefit as well.

Are we only supposed to pay attention to bloggers with no ads on their sites? Should we be suspicious of those who do maintain ads, to which by definition they have an interest in driving traffic (and to the extent that they write things that, deservedly, increase their own traffic, the financial benefit increases).

I should say that I, myself, have never made one thin dime from blogging---which shouldn't, in and of itself, make me one bit more or less credible in anyone's eyes. I have made money at various times as a freelance, part-time and full-time journalist; a PR marketing person (never for a politician, as it happens); a business writer; a writer and editor of training materials; and a grantwriter. (I've also done several of those things for free, as a volunteer--but not journalism. LOL: In fact, journalism is the one type of writing or editing I've never done for free. Ahem!) Currently, for one operation, I'm being paid to revamp, redesign and produce all sorts of written material; design a sophisticated website; and more. Another client--a quarterly journal--has paid me for five years to edit foreign policy articles.

I share all of this by way of explaining why I tend to have a very workmanlike, practical, unromanticized attitude toward writing--or editing--of the journalistic type or otherwise, with rare exceptions. And why I tend to raise a very skeptical eyebrow--unfairly or fairly--when issues of "purity" or "independence," or whatever, come up, explicitly or implicitly, when tied to compensation. If one were to go far enough down that path, the conclusion might be that one's credibility and integrity can only be preserved in those areas that one can, or at least could, afford to pursue for free. Frankly, I don't buy it. You can find examples of the corrupt and the credible in both the "free" and "paid" categories, and it is has forever been so.

As for the NYT article, I think it's just another round in the bloggers-expose-journalists/journalists-expose-bloggers game. So it will go, and so it should. It's healthy more than it is not. But we should keep in mind that both sides have axes to grind, neither side is inherently pristine, and--above all--that the job of sorting it all out ultimately falls to the consumer, like it or not.

Update: Others weighing in so far (via Memeorandum): The News Blog, Roger Ailes, Alabama Liberation Front, MyDD, and Pandagon.

Update II: **** The "citizenjournalism" was not a typo, but deliberate. That's how I started, quite a while back, referring to a particular movement as it was being espoused rather broadly. (Googling would reveal that it's not the first time I've written it that way, when making a particular point, though personally I wouldn't think it's worth the bother.) Perhaps I should have noted and explained that, but then I'd have been off and running on a whole other post, which, to this day, I've never gotten around to writing.

Update III: Glover responds here. Good points are also made here, here, and here.